Blue Jays left-hander Mark Buehrle and Phillies left-hander Cliff Lee needed about 90 minutes to reach the seventh-inning stretch Wednesday night at Rogers Centre. But a one-run deficit in a pitchers' duel quickly, then gruelingly, turned into a 10-0 loss for the Phillies when Lee, Mario Hollands and Shawn Camp combined to allow nine runs in the seventh.
The Phillies continue to play wildly inconsistent baseball. In the past couple of weeks they took three of four from the Dodgers in Los Angeles, finished a 10-game road trip at a respectable 6-4 and took two of three over the weekend at home against the Nationals.
But three consecutive losses this week to the Blue Jays -- the first two coming Monday and Tuesday at Citizens Bank Park -- have left the Phillies at 15-17 and last in the National League East.
The Phillies have scored in just one of their past 34 innings.
"Ups and downs," Sandberg said. "At this point, we need to have it go the other direction. That is the other club I've seen up to this point, a team that will bounce back and get it going."
The game seemed destined to be close as Buehrle and Lee worked quickly through opposing lineups. Buehrle averages just 16 seconds between pitches, according to FanGraphs, while Lee averages 20. That ranks first and 13th in baseball among starting pitchers, respectively.
They held true to form through six and a half innings.
Then disaster struck for the Phillies.
Lee had allowed just one run and two hits through six when he allowed a leadoff triple to Edwin Encarnacion, a home run to Erik Kratz, a single to Dioner Navarro and a home run to Juan Francisco in succession to make it 5-0.
Encarnacion's triple proved to be a harbinger, as he hit a high fly ball deep to center field, but Phillies center fielder Ben Revere slowed his pursuit, then got twisted around as the ball hit the base of the wall.
"It looked like he gave up on it," Sandberg said. "It hit the bottom of the wall. A catchable ball. … I can imagine there would be some frustration with Cliff at that point. He was out there battling."
"I dropped back, put my head down and pulled it back up, here, the ball kind of phased out," Revere said. "My job is to get back there. That's my mistake. I should have been back at the fence. I probably could have made the catch. But I caught myself drifting a little bit. When I dropped my head and pulled it back up, I kind of lost it for a few seconds. Then the ball hit the wall."
Revere called it a "sickening feeling" that the triple led to a nine-run implosion.
"Definitely the momentum changed right there," Lee said. "I don't know if that's why. I don't know."
Kratz followed with the two-run homer, and the rout was on.
"It was going really well up until that point," Lee said. "I don't know what happened. They just started squaring everything up."
Buehrle had much better results. Marlon Byrd hit a one-out double to left field in the second, but he did not score. Cody Asche walked to start the third. Revere followed two batters later with a single to put runners on first and second with one out, but nobody scored. Buehrle retired nine consecutive batters following Revere's single, and 11 of 12 when Byrd hit a leadoff single in the seventh.
Buehrle allowed three hits and two walks with six strikeouts in seven scoreless innings, never once throwing a pitcher harder than 85 mph.
The Phillies scored a run in the first inning in Sunday's 1-0 victory over the Nationals. The Blue Jays shut out the Phillies in Monday's 3-0 loss. The Phillies scored five runs in the sixth inning in Tuesday's 6-5 loss. They were shut out for the third time this season Wednesday.
"It's tough without run support," Sandberg said of Lee. "He's out there feeling like he has to be perfect."
If Lee is frustrated, he did his best to hide it. But it must be frustrating to take two of three from Washington over the weekend to improve to 15-14 and move within 1 1/2 games of first place, then lose three consecutive games to Toronto.
"I mean, whatever; it is what it is," Lee said. "We just got to come out here tomorrow and try to turn it around. You got to give them credit. They earned it today. Buehrle pitched an unbelievable game. They swung the bats, put together a big inning. It's our job to try and limit that, and we were trying, but they just squared everything up that inning."